A few months back, Facebook started giving users the option of unsubscribing to most or all someone's status updates, without actually de-friending them.
It's a useful option as we approach election season. I have to admit, I've unsubscribed from a few people who were going overboard on the political postings.
It's not that I don't care about politics; I do. But politics-by-Facebook-photo seems to be more about sarcasm and hate than about solving this country's problems. Tiny minds from either end of the political spectrum pat them on the back for creating some photo or meme that mocks the other party's candidate or platform.
But if your political viewpoint can be expressed in the width of a few pixels on the middle column of your Facebook wall, it's pretty narrow.
American politics, the great laboratory of democracy, has always had pithy slogans. "Give me liberty or give me death!" "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" "Fifty-four-forty or Fight!" "Remember the Alamo!" "You'll Wonder Where The Yellow Went When You Brush Your Teeth With Pepsodent!" (Sorry ... no idea how that last one got in there.) But slogans do not statesmanship make, at least according to the T-shirt I'm going to have printed up next week.
I'm suspicious of any candidate or partisan who spends more time talking about how terrible the opposition is than they do about their own vision for the country. And that's what's so insidious about these Facebook postings -- they're generally not about solving problems, they're about demeaning the opposition.
"Oh, look, it's a rich guy!"
"Oh, look, it's a guy with a Middle-Eastern-sounding middle name!"
It's easier to defend your own beliefs if you can make the other side's beliefs sound as ridiculous as possible. So instead of responding to each other, we belittle each other -- we caricature the other side's beliefs in order to mock them more effectively. And Internet memes are perhaps the most potent and easy-to-distribute form of mockery yet invented.
But what's really the point? It's hard to imagine anyone's mind being changed by one of these things. The only effect they have is that you can pat yourself on the back for your own cleverness and for being on the correct side, as you define "correct." That tends to make you a little more smug and sure of your own convictions.
But our problems aren't that cut-and-dried. I can think of issues where I think we need to move to the left, and other issues where I think we need to move to the right, and still other issues where I don't think either end of the spectrum has come up with any solutions.
The only way -- the only way -- we're ever going to move this country forward is by talking to each other, passionately but respectfully, about what we believe, how we see the problems, and how we see the solutions. And the further this country slides into resentful bumper-sticker politics, the less likely that is to happen.
We need to try to challenge ourselves. Don't just listen to the commentators with whom you agree; listen to the ones with whom you disagree, and keep an open mind. Your politics might become harder to sum up in a Facebook post, but our country might become better as a result.
Plus, if we start making our political choices based on Facebook, I'm concerned that we're going to get confused and start electing cute kittens, or zombies, or Muppets, or condescendingly-captioned screen grabs of Willy Wonka.
Of course, it could always be worse; if we start making our political choices based on Pinterest, our next president could be a recipe for rhubarb pie.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is http://lakeneuron.com .